Mavunga leads No. 14 North Carolina to 74-66 win

The only disappointing part of North Carolina’s latest holiday

visit to the Grand Strand was that the Tar Heels’ beloved coach

wasn’t there.

North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, fighting leukemia, had

hoped to be with her team at Myrtle Beach, a trip her club has made

annually since the 1994-95 season. While Hatchell tells her coaches

and players she’s improving each day, she couldn’t make North

Carolina’s two games at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The 14th ranked Tar Heels, at least, gave Hatchell plenty to

smile about with a 74-66 victory over No. 10 South Carolina on

Wednesday night.

”They’re playing for her, there’s no doubt about that,” said

longtime assistant Andrew Calder, who’s leading North Carolina in

Hatchell’s absence.

North Carolina, which defeated New Orleans 124-41 here Monday

night, improved to 26-5 all-time in games playing along South

Carolina’s famed beach resort.

The Tar Heels (10-2) showed a little of everything that’s made

them one of the country’s winningest programs during Hatchell’s 28

seasons in charge.

Talented freshman Stephanie Mavunga had her seventh

double-double this season with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Mavunga helped North Carolina build a 13-point lead midway

through the second half while Diamond DeShields and Xylina McDaniel

helped fend off the Gamecocks, who cut the margin to 55-53 with

nine minutes to go.

DeShields, the daughter of ex-major leaguer Delino DeShields,

scored 17 points while McDaniel, the daughter of former NBA

standout Xavier McDaniel, added 14 points and seven rebounds.

Mavunga said teammate Danielle Butts told the Tar Heels at the

half that despite their 39-27 edge that the Gamecocks (9-1) would

tighten things up.

”She told us we’ve got to hold our heads up and keep pushing

through everything,” Mavunga said.

North Carolina did that to perfection after South Carolina’s

charge, which cut the game to 2 points on Aleighsa Welch’s foul

shots with 9:21 to go.

That’s when McDaniel drove for a layup and Mavunga followed with

a basket to extend the Tar Heels lead to 59-53. Mavunga and

McDaniel combined for 12 straight points down the stretch to fend

off South Carolina.

”They’re undefeated, they’re not used to losing so they’re

going to keep coming at us,” Mavunga said. ”So we just had to

stay together and keep doing what it is we do, play Carolina

basketball.”

South Carolina had hoped to match its best start at 10-0 in

coach Dawn Staley’s six seasons with a victory. Instead, Staley

says she’s got plenty of things to teach her young team – the

Gamecocks start three freshmen – as they finish off non-conference

play the next two weeks.

”Of course, they’re disappointed that they lost this game, but

we’ve got a lot of fight left in us,” Staley said. ”This was one

you want to get, but it’s not the tell-all of the season.”

It was the Tar Heels fifth straight victory since falling to

Arizona State in overtime, 94-81, on Nov. 29.

Welch led the Gamecocks with a career-high 23 points.

Tiffany Mitchell had 18 points and Elem Ibiam had 14 for the

Gamecocks.

South Carolina had largely cruised to its undefeated run coming

in with a strong offensive showing. The Gamecocks had averaged just

under 80 points a game – their closest score so far was a 70-50

victory over Southern Cal last month.

But Staley said her team hadn’t really been tested defensively

and her fears were borne out in the opening half as the Tar Heels

frequently beat South Carolina down court for easy buckets or found

open players on the wing for uncontested jumpers.

Mavunga and Gray were a combined 7 of 12 in the first 20 minutes

as North Carolina opened up a double-digit advantage.

Mavunga’s inside basket with 11:30 left put the Tar Heels up for

good, 13-12.

South Carolina cut it to 23-21 on Ibiam’s basket four minutes

later before the Tar Heels finished the half on a 16-6 surge.

DeShields had five points and Gray four in the run.

South Carolina’s coaches and staff joined their North Carolina

counterparts in wearing orange ribbons to support Hatchell’s fight

against the disease.

”She’s a strong woman and a legendary coach that’s been

stricken by this,” Staley said. ”But if I’m cancer, I wouldn’t

want to mess with coach Hatchell.”